’The Band That Would Be Blood Sausage!’
The foursome that came together and created Killswitch Engage already had strong fan followings. Mike D'Antonio (bass) was formerly the leader and principal songwriter of Overcast, the legendary underground metal group. When Overcast split in 1998, D'Antonio sought for a year to find the right combination of players to fuse hardcore and metal with melody. During the summer of 1999, D'Antonio connected with Adam Dutkiewitz, who was the drummer for Aftershock, and Joel Stroetzel, Aftershock's guitar player. Jesse Leach, vocalist for Corrin and Nothing Stays Gold, joined on and the foursome took the name Killswitch Engage.
Killswitch Engage made its debut by opening for In Flames during their tour. The Ferret label heard and liked the combination of brutality, sophistication, and breathtaking originality that the group produced, and signed them on. Ferret released Killswitch Engage's self-titled debut album in June 2000 and it immediately began capturing rave reviews.
During 2001, the band recorded "Numbered Days" for the WERS' Nasty Habits live CD, a compilation with bands such as God Forbid, Haste, Unearth, and Poison the Well. Also in 2001, Killswitch Engage signed with Roadrunner Records and started recording their second full album, Alive or Just Breathing at the Zing Studio in Westfield, MA. Andy Sneap was signed on to mix and master this one in his English studio, but the album still aimed itself at even more of the growling bass tone, heavier guitar crunch, and thicker/faster double bass that permeated the music of the band.
Then the bottom dropped out, so to speak. In June, vocalist Jesse Leach abruptly left the band, due to voice problems and personal issues. Many wondered what was next. Had Killswitch hit the wall? Would the quintet truly be able to recover or would the band fold? Enter Howard Jones, lead singer of local metalcore band, Blood Has Been Shed. Jones assimilated into the band quickly, playing his first show at July 2002's ‘Hellfest’, essentially the Superbowl of the underground. He easily won over any skeptics and the rest is, as they say, history!
Sitting down on the Killswitch Engage tour bus, chatting with bassist and co-founder of the band Mike D’Antonio, I first wondered which of the media-created labels about the band’s music was the closet to their own perspectives: European thrash metal or American hardcore!? ”We’re a metal band,” he adamantly replies. ”Straight out just metal, but all of our previous bands were just hardcore bands kinda playing metal songs and getting away with it instead of being called hardcore bands. So, we kinda have all those roots in the hardcore scene, but we definitely consider ourselves a metal band.”
With some thrash riffs in there, perhaps?! ”Yeah, sometimes we maybe try and write European thrash riffs, but I wouldn’t really consider us a European thrash band. But, I feel like we’re definitely diverse and we take from a lot of different places. We have European influences as well as American hardcore in the term of garage metal, but we kinda threw it all in a pile.”
What effect on the band at the time did Jesse Leach’s departure have? ”Well, at first it seemed like the end of the band. Everything was up in the air and we didn’t know what to do and it was such a drastic thing to happen all at once. We got to the point where we were thinking 'Are we gonna keep going or are we gonna audition more people?' But right away Roadrunner Records was telling us that we had to audition people right now, because they had a tour lined up for us at the end of March! So we started auditioning lots of people and all of a sudden I got a call from Howard Jones whose old band Blood Has Been Shed both my old bands and Killswitch had played with numerous times. I’d probably known Howard for about ten or fifteen years at this point and I knew him as a great guy and as probably one of the best singers I’ve ever known! So when he called me I instantly thought that he was the answer to everything and sure enough, after the first track pretty much everyone was unanimous that he was the dude to do it. And from then on in things just fell into place really fast.”
Quote: “…Killswitch’s reputation as road warriors…” – explain what that means! ”To be willing to sacrifice any and all home life that you have to go out on tour and to tour your butt off night and day. To get in front of people at any time, in any place and to show them what you’re all about. To get that one chance to play in front of people for that first time and try and win them over. I’ve been one all my life with little to no record label recognition. But, we just love to do it as it’s our thing!”
Quote: “100% trend-free metal” – explain that media-invented explanation of your music! ”I suppose it makes sense as we’re not playing radio hits, that’s for sure! We definitely have a lot of influences that are old school punk, metal, rock and we definitely take a lot from newer bands. Bands like In Flames and a lot of the Swedish metal bands.”
Knowing that you do the artwork for all the CDs, is it something you do just for a hobby or monetary gain? ”Well, I went to school for graphic design and went from graphic arts to a technical school. I then graduated from there and did another four years at a design college. I’ve been working in the field since ’92 or ’93 doing all my bands artwork and anybody elses bands I know! I then eventually got a job in the field. I worked for Clear Channel doing a lot of ads and billboards for them, but I quit that job to come on the road and do this. It’s always been two parallel things in my life: music and art with graphic design. And every so often I’ll switch fields and I’ll go back and forth! They really go hand in hand.”
What does your latest album title, Alive or Just Breathing mean to you? ”Well, people in their normal everyday life they learn that the 9-5 job is kinda the way that you grow up and that it’s good for some people, but essentially there’s other things that you could be doing in your life. Things to aspire to, to make the world a better place or to simply even just make yourself a better person. The title’s about breaking out of that mold of the 9-5 job and maybe trying to do something new. Live rather than just exist.”
Where did the band’s name originate? ”Killswitch was just a word I really liked. In my old band I used to write the lyrics all the time and whenever I would see something on the TV set – like a phrase or something – I would go ‘Ahh, that’s really cool’ and I would write it down real quick. I’m not really a lyricist, but things come to me every so often. And with this, I was watching the ‘X-Files’ one day and it just happened to pop up and I thought that it was just a really neat name and if I ever did another band that would be a really cool name to have. So, I’d always kinda kept that under wraps and when I brought the name up to the guys they thought it was real cool, but thought that maybe there could be anther word that follows it to kinda accentuate it. In this case, Engage which is like the inaction of turning a switch or turning something off and starting brand new. So, it’s like our band was at the time. Starting brand new, starting afresh.”
Were there any other band names that could have easily been used? ”Yeah, our band members are really goofy and they came up with some really crazy titles. We joke around for hours and hours and hours of pretty dumb stuff, but ‘Blood Sausage’ came up,' he begins to laugh, "but that’s about the best that I can do now with my memory,” he continues to laugh.
Word has it that you’re working on the follow-up? ”Yeah, kinda sorta, a little bit,” he sheepishly replies. ”We’ve recorded a song that has vocals on it that we have just sitting there and two more that don’t have vocals! So, we’re up to four songs now as we also have a song on the Freddy Vs. Jason soundtrack. It’s called ‘When Darkness Falls’ and it’s a brand new track and we’re really very happy with it. It’s along the lines of a ‘My Last Serenade’ or ‘Element of One,’ but it’s got some pretty kick ass heavy power chords that surround it. We’re really, really happy with this new incarnation of the band with Tom now playing drums on this record, and Howard on vocals. We just couldn’t be happier and we talked about the whole Jessie thing leaving and it being a harsh thing, but in reality it probably worked out for the best. Having Howard as a front man has just been amazing and it’s definitely taken the band to new levels.”
The Fun Five:
1) Who would look the best dressed as a woman in the band? - ”That would be Adam, because he dresses like a woman anyways.”
2) Who is the worst to travel on tour with … and why? - ”Well, Howard has a very stinky ass and I remember the first tour we ever did that for about five days at the beginning of the tour his ass was just stinking up the van so much we just had to roll down the windows the whole time!”
3) Who was the last member of the band to throw up … and why? - ”That would be Adam, again. The other night I think he may have been celebrating Howard’s birthday, but he drank a lot of Jagermeister with the keyboardist for Cradle of Filth!”
4) Who’s the freakiest member of the band … for whatever reason?! - ”Adam! I don’t now if you saw his stage attire today but he was wearing cowboy boots, short shorts and a sleeveless shirt with a farmer’s tan! And I think he had the purple rats tail attached to his hair!”
5) What was the cheesiest ‘80s hair band that you can admit to having bought a record of back in the day?! - ”One of the first records I ever bought was Kilroy Was Here by Styx ... for ‘Mr. Roboto!’”
Finally, describe the bands music in three words! ”In the words of Cradle of Filth, Killswitch F**king Engage!”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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